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Fashola and the not-very-bad federal roads comment

Minister of Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola shocked many last week with his remark, describing media reports on the terrible condition of roads across the country as hyped.

The faux pas came after a similar gaffe by the Minister of Agriculture, Muhammad Sabo Nanono, who said there was no hunger in the country, a mockery of President Muhammadu Buhari’s pledge to lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty.

Even the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo had in faraway United States of America in June, sought to downplay the surging kidnap incidents across the country, describing some of the kidnap reports as untrue and others fuelled by politics.

The question posed to the vice president was not about false kidnapping reports or the politics involved. The worry expressed by Nigerians living in the US was about the increasing incidents of kidnappings, which heightened insecurity of lives and property. He rather chose to defuse concerns about the safety of the citizens with sophistry.

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What these perfunctory remarks by public officers suggest is that they are insensitive to, or unaware of, the plight of the people or simply playing politics.

Fashola, no doubt, earned the ministerial job with his excellent performance record, as Lagos governor. He built durable roads with walkways across the state.

He revoked shoddy road projects and got serious contractors to complete such jobs to the delight of Lagosians. Most of the roads built by him are still in very good condition more than four years after his departure as governor.

But it appears the federal road sector that Fashola superintends over now is quite unlike Lagos. It is making not a few Nigerians wonder whether the boots the works minister now wears are not oversized.

At the post-Federal Executive Council meeting news briefing where Fashola claimed that the reports of deplorable road conditions were mere hypes, he had predicted that his statement would make the headlines, apparently because he knew it would be news to the ears. But the media has not been hyping reports of bad roads, as the minister would want to be believed.

Fashola only needs to travel more regularly by road to appreciate that his ministry is not meeting the yearnings of Nigerians to make federal roads motorable and safe.

The minister needs, for instance, to ride in a vehicle beside trucks through the portion laden with deep gullies at Conoil U-turn on the Sango Ota-Abeokuta Expressway and share in the everyday apprehension of commuters that the container trucks might fall and crush them to death. The trucks now tumble regularly at that spot and there are many of such across the country.

And the issue is not that the federal roads are not so bad but how many of the over 500 of them are in good shape and safe?

The works minister sounded like one who flunked an examination but is consoling himself that his failure was not woeful.

Rather than living in denial of the failing of the Federal Government and his ministry, we urge Fashola to focus on how the expectations of Nigerians to travel on smooth and safe federal roads can be met.

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While trying to make it look like the situation was not as bad as being portrayed, the minister mentioned “funding challenges”, without which “most road projects would have been long completed.”

Ekiti State Governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, had underlined the funding dilemma when he noted recently that the Federal Government budgeted about N250 billion for roads this year and that if the government decided to complete just the Lagos-Ibadan, Kaduna-Abuja and Kaduna-Kano expressways, the projects would cost N500 billion.

The Federal Government, he said, had about 36,000 kilometres of roads, waiting for rehabilitation. Fashola had himself told this newspaper in a recent interview that more than 500 road projects were competing for the scarce budgetary funds. The minister’s concern should be surmounting the funding challenge, not to attempt to conceal the real condition of the roads.

Another issue the minister should beam attention on is the poor maintenance of federal roads. Government commits very scarce funds to roads, which are left to disintegrate soon after construction. Who are those responsible for clearing drains on federal roads and ensuring that floodwaters, which mass on the roads as a result of clogged drains do not eventually damage the asphalt?

Former works minister, Mike Onolememen, had as far back as 2014 hinted that the Federal Government was making moves to hands off roads within cities and hand them over to state governments to maintain. We are aware that the reclassification of roads has not been accomplished.

The handover and reconstruction of the Lagos International Airport Road degenerated into a verbal war between the immediate past governor of Lagos State, Akinwunmi Ambode and Fashola before Prof Osinbajo, who then acted in absence of President Muhammadu Buhari, eventually intervened and granted the Lagos government the go-ahead.

Today, the road, which might still have remained one of the eyesores called federal roads has been reconstructed and inaugurated. Why is the Federal Government holding on to roads it lacks the capacity to rehabilitate and maintain?

We also urge the works minister to dwell less on environmental factors and government bureaucracy, as reasons federal roads are in bad shape. Such excuses merely reinforce certain sentiments about the competence and capacity of the Buhari administration to foster the much-desired change.

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